Choosing a CD Player
By Chuck Hawks
With my old Sony CDP-620ES single play compact disc player showing signs of advancing age, I decided that it was time for a new CD player for my two channel (stereo) music system. The made in Japan CDP-620ES is a very well built, fully copper shielded component that weighs about 25 pounds. It is a high end CD player and it reinforced my long held belief that buying quality pays off in the long run. The only maintenance required in 20 years of use has been cleaning and lubricating the drawer mechanism and three belts.
My first inclination was to look for a new Sony ES CD player, but Sony no longer offers component CD players of the quality of my CDP-620ES. That meant shopping for another brand I could trust. Highest on my list were Marantz (Japan), Luxman (Japan), Yamaha (Japan) and McIntosh (USA). Marantz and Yamaha offer medium as well as high priced CD players (those of you shopping in the medium price class, take note), while Luxman and McIntosh build only high priced units. They all have a reputation for building good CD players.
Of course, there are many other reputable manufacturers offering component CD players. (See the list in the article "Stereo Component Brands and Manufacturers.") However, most of them are not available in my area. In addition, many CD players today are sourced out of Red China and I prefer to buy components made in advanced ("First World") countries, which eliminated several well reviewed players from consideration.
I investigated new CD players, although I would prefer to save money by buying used. Since a CD player is a component with a motor and drive system, I would only consider buying a used CD player if it were a current model in "like new" condition, complete with remote control and owner's manual.
Online research enabled me to narrow my choices. I decided that it would be nice if my new player had SA-CD capability, as well as playing standard (Red Book) CD's. I also felt that a heavy-duty transport mechanism, beefy power supply and sophisticated D/A converters were important. Slot loading players need not apply. The CD players that seemed to meet my wants and needs, particularly in terms of build quality and that did not exceed $6000 per 2012 MSRP were reduced to this short list: Marantz Reference Series SA-15S2 ($2000), SA-11S2 ($3000) and SA-7S1 ($6000); Luxman D-05 ($5000); Yamaha CD-S2000 ($2500); McIntosh MCD301 ($4500), MCD500 ($6000) and MVP871 ($6000).
The McIntosh MVP871 is a combination SA-CD/CD/DVD player and I actually only needed audio compact disc capability, but its performance and quality qualified it for my list and I could see no great drawback to its having DVD capability. Apparently, many audiophiles are using these McIntosh audio/visual players in their high-end stereo systems to play CD's.
These fine machines are expensive CD players. Many serviceable CD players are available for $500 or less. However, I found that the $2000-$6000 price range is not as outrageous as it sounds and many highly rated players are far more expensive. Remember, I am looking for a 20 year service life, such as my CDP-620ES provided. Even $6000, amortized over 20 years ($300/year), is not as bad as it first seems. Anyway, I hoped to spend considerably less than that.
All of these units are built with high quality parts, boast excellent performance specifications, include durable transports, superior physical quality, sound great and are built in either Japan or the USA by educated and highly trained workers. In short, they are fine CD players more than sufficient for my purposes.
From that point, the final choice became a matter of local availability, personal preference and price. In terms of personal preference, I have owned Marantz and McIntosh components for so long and with such satisfaction that I have a built-in bias in favor of those two brands. In this case, price became the deciding factor when I found a previously owned, like new in the box, McIntosh MVP871 complete with owner's manual and remote control for $1800. That seemed fair to me, so I bought it.
The MVP871 features a highly-regulated linear power supply, advanced digital servo mechanism, four stereo 192KHz/24-BIT PCM/DSD DAC's, twin laser optical pick-up, 2x DVD read speed, 4x CD/CD-R/CD-RW read speed and fiber optic front panel lighting. Here are the MVP871's specifications:
NTSC/PAL Region Code 1
Compact Discs (CD-DA, Video CD)
Output Level: 1Vp-p (75 ohms)
Output Connector: RCA Jack
Number of Connectors: 1
Y Output Level: 1 Vp-p (75 ohms)
C Output Level: 0.286 Vp-p (75 ohms)
Output Connector: “S” Mini DIN
Number of Connectors: 1
Component Video Output (480P/480I)
Y Output Level: 1Vp-p (75 ohms)
Pb Output Level: 0.648 V-p-p (75 ohms)
Pr Output Level: 0.7 Vp-p (75 ohms)
Output Connectors: 3 RCA Jacks (1 set)
HDMI VIDEO OUTPUTAUDIO OUTPUTS
Output Level: 2 Vms (1kHz, 0dB)
Output Connectors: 2 RCA Jacks, 2 XLR Balanced
Output Level: 2Vms (1kHz, 0dB)
Output Connectors: 6 RCA Jacks
HDMI AUDIO OUTPUT
DVD (Linear PCM): 4Hz-22kHZ (48kHz); 4Hz-44kHz (96kHz)
DVD-Audio: 4Hz-88kHz (192kHz)
CD Audio: 4Hz-20kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion
Digital Audio Outputs
Optical: TOS Link Coaxial RCA Jack
Overall Dimensions (H x W x D)
6”(15.24cm) x 17-1/2” (44.5cm) x 16-1/2” (41.9cm).
27.5 lbs. (12.5kg) net
As you can see, this is an impressive CD player. The 27.5 pound weight suggests heavy-duty construction. The chassis and case are all metal, except for the glass front panel. If you are familiar with McIntosh components, you know they are built to last and their backlit glass front panels are among the most beautiful and recognizable in the industry.
When using the factory default settings, the MVP recognizes the type of disc it is fed and sets itself to play correctly. You can override the default settings using the remote control unit and on screen programming, assuming the video output is connected to a TV or monitor. The instruction manual describes how to do this for the myriad possible settings.
My criticisms of this player are relatively minor. The most noticeable is its plastic CD tray. On a component at this price point, this part should be aluminum. The disc drawer is often a weak spot in CD players and it gets a lot of use. I can only trust that McIntosh chose a superior grade of plastic.
My second criticism is the absence of a numeric keypad on the player's front panel for direct entry of track numbers. My Sony ES player had a keypad on the front panel and I found it very convenient. Of course, there is a keypad on the remote control. However, since this is a single play unit you have to be at the player to insert a disc and that means a numeric keypad on the front panel is convenient when you want to play a particular track. Many users seem to have difficulty keeping track of remote control units, so I prefer that all functions be duplicated on the front panel. That way the unit remains fully functional if the remote is lost. (Note the number of used components without remote controls.)
Third is the absence of an output level control on the MVP871. This is certainly not crucial, but it is convenient to be able to equalize the outputs of one's program sources, so that when switching from, say, the tuner to the CD player the volume doesn't change.
A problem inherent with any combined CD/DVD player is increased operational complexity. In other words, it is harder to understand and use. It is said that most people do not know how to program their DVD players and I am sure the same is true for the MVP871. The remote control has enough buttons to scare a jet pilot, most of which have nothing to do with playing music CD's and can only screw things up if inadvertently pressed. This would not be a good unit for the person inclined to press buttons at random. It would certainly not be a good player for anyone reluctant to read the owner's manual. For a stereophile like me, who rarely if ever plays a DVD and has no interest in 5.1 surround sound, a plain CD player would be preferable. In fact, I would have preferred one of the straight CD players on my list, but it was the MVP871 on which I got the best buy.
Of course, the most important thing about any high fidelity component is how it sounds. Theoretically, a CD player should have no "sound" of its own. It should feed the information on the disc to the control amplifier exactly as it was recorded, without distortion, compression, coloration or alteration of any kind. The MVP871's electrical specifications suggest that it should do this better than most and, in fact, it does. Connected to my Marantz SC-11S1 pre-amplifier, Marantz 250M power amplifier and Klipsch RF-7 II loudspeakers, the sound of audio CD's is impressively clean and natural. It sounds so perfect that I doubt if I could tell the output of the MVP871 from that of a (hypothetically) perfect CD player in an A/B blind test. This is one comparison we will never be able to make, since all Hi-Fi components fall short of perfection. However, the MVP871 is sonically superior to any music program source I have previously owned. Given a clean and accurate pre-amp and power amp behind the MVP871, any coloration or distortion of the sound you hear is probably coming from your loudspeakers. Speakers remain the most flawed of our Hi-Fi components.
Since it can play DVD's in addition to audio CD's, I connected the MVD871's video output to my Toshiba Regza flat screen LCD television and played a DVD of the University of Oregon's 2011 football season. (Go Ducks!) Somewhat to my surprise, it worked! (I am not a video guy, to say the least.) The MVP871 has therefore not only replaced my old Sony CD player, it also replaced my Technics DVD player.
Copyright 2011, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.